Director of All Things Baked & Fried
When Tressa Wiles was growing up in Gainesville, Virginia, she had no idea that baking could be a job -- she had never heard of a pastry chef. "That was back before the Food Network reached us, and our culinary scene was pretty provincial, to put it mildly…" she laughs. When she eventually got her first job with a pastry chef, someone handed her a mango and told her to cut it. "I didn't even know what it was, let alone how to cut it…"
She's come a long way since then. Once she had 'discovered' the field of just making desserts [at age 14, as hostess at a local restaurant,] she set herself on track and received an associates degree in an intensive Pastry/Baking Arts program at Stratford University in northern Virginia. She then landed an externship at nearby 2941, a position in a kitchen that has garnered a great reputation. For a tenure of three years, Wiles soaked up from exclusive tutorials with Jean-Francois Bonnet, the consulting pastry chef who has an impressive pedigree and continued for two years with Anthony Chavez.
New York bound, Wiles wasted no time and jumped right in at Eleven Madison Park. During those glorious years in the pastry kitchen as an aspiring cook, the restaurant received three Michelin stars, and four stars from The New York Times. She then branched out to Cobblestone Catering in Brooklyn, where she relished the sheer variety of the work: New York Fashion Week, Martha Stewart, the big television networks -- "There was something different going on every day!" But what would not change is the weather and Southern mentality that comes with warmer climates. A carefree, fun loving culture drew her to Australia for that dramatic change. Only one thing missing – family – so back to Virginia it was.
When Wiles first came to Bayou Bakery to work for acclaimed chef David Guas, she was new to the confections of Louisiana, but she's embraced them with the zeal of a convert. Starting just before King Cake season, she was given the “full immersion” track, creating hundreds of the cream-cheese-filled pastry rings per day, and she worked at mastering pralines until their color and crunch consistently met a New Orleanian’s high standards. She is hard-pressed to choose a favorite among all the goodies that overflow the pastry cases, but admits to loving Guas' brownie recipe. "They're super fudgey, not too cakey," she notes. Sometimes she'll shake them up with a Peppermint or a Mississippi Mud variation.
Wiles works with one assistant, and she's quick to point out that in Bayou Bakery's Laissez-faire culture, everyone is aimed to please and help. When her baking day has drawn to a close in the early afternoon, she gets out on the open roads of Virginia in her white Jeep, top down, and soaks it all in ‘til golden brown.